Municipal politics

Dear Comrades,—In the January issue of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD there appeared an article under the head of “Municipal Politics” and signed “W.” Upon that article I should like to pass a few comments, lack of time being my excuse for not having done so before.

In its Declaration of Principles the S.P. states it “enters the field of political action determined to wage war against all other political parties,” etc.

la his article “W” evidently tries to prove that the administration of laws made by other political parties may be held to be consistent with this clause.

That is to say, S.P. members may consistently help to administer laws made by political parties against which their organisation has declared war.

For instance, the members of the S.D.P. and I.L.P. now in Parliament, may, with the assistance of the Liberals and Tories, place a certain law on the Statute Book. This law the S.P. will at the present moment decry as useless and mischievous, yet in the future, according to the article under notice, some of the party members may be busily employed in administering this very act.

It appears to me that to object to the making of a given law and then to concientiously see that it is properly administered, is to give a new meaning to the word hostility.

The S.P’er does not work directly to bring about Old Age Pensions, the Feeding of the Children, etc., yet when such proposals have become law he must see they are properly carried out ! But if such laws are good enough to be administered by S.P. men, the principles they embody are good to be advocated by S.P. Men—or so, at least, it appears to me. This will apply equally to any other measures.

I have frequently heard I.L.P. speakers enunciate precisely the same sentiments as those expressed in the article under discussion.

They claim that there are in existence many laws which, if properly administered, would tend to ameliorate the condition of the working class, and that it is, therefore, the duty of Socialists to obtain seats on the governing bodies for the purpose of getting out of such laws all that is in them.

I submit that to administer the laws better than they are now administered is a reform—a reform of administration.

To “insist on the futility of reform,” and then to see that such reform is carried out “according to the Act,” seems to me to be acting on the principle of exhausting all the possibilities of error before getting down to concrete business. There are many excuses to be made for a party which does not know its business, but for the S.P. to go on such lines !

I am not now arguing whether the policy outlined by “W” is right or wrong, but I submit it is, so far as I can see, hostile to the hostility clause in your Declaration of Principles.

In conclusion I would like to ask “W” the following questions :

If a reform act, carried out to the letter, tended in any way to hurt capitalism, would not the capitalist central authority quickly interfere with its operation ? If such reform did not hurt capitalism, of what use would it be to the working class ?

If S.P. members on local bodies may there work in harmony with Radicals, S.D.P. and I.L.P. men, why may they not do so on the platform’?

If S.P. members may help to administer capitalist laws why may they not help to frame them?

May members of the S.P. become J.P’s, magistrates, judges, etc., if such positions should come their way ?

If an S.P. man may help administer local affairs, why not national affairs also ? That is, would he be allowed to take a seat in the Cabinet should an opportunity offer ?

If he may do either of these, will he be permitted, as an official, to administer the affairs of a Trade Union ? If not, why not ?

Finally, will “W” explain the difference—if any—between the policy he lays down and that adopted by the S.D.P., I.L.P. and similar organisations ?

As a Revolutionist, and as an admirer, hitherto, of the main policy of the S.P., I, and doubtless many others, would feel obliged to “W” if he would deal again with the subject in the next issue of the STANDARD.
Yours fraternally,


It was neither said nor suggested in the article under discussion that the Socialist was to see capitalist laws carried out “according to the act.” The phrase Mr. Wright puts in quotation marks is a fiction of his own of doubtful honesty.

It is, therefore,, quite irrelevant that an I.L.P’er conceives it to be the duty of an elected member to administer existing laws to the letter; for the Socialist does not seek to use the powers of the municipality “to the letter,” but only in so far as they can be used in the interest of the revolutionary working class, ignoring or fighting everything that cannot be so used.

There can, moreover, be no question of administration, even upon a local council, until the Socialists have the majority. Then only can they use the limited “power, funds, and organisation of the municipality, as far as is locally possible, in helping to complete the task of the workers in the capture of the central powers for Socialism,” as shown. And this is very different from administering laws “according to the act.”

Nor, indeed, was there any question of administration at all, except in so far as the use of the local powers as a weapon by the Socialist workers may be held to be such.

Since, however, the powers of local councils are practically limited to the use of laws defining their spheres of operations,—which are passed, not by I.L.P. or S.D.P., but by the capitalist class irrespective of initals,—it follows that to take any action within the framework of the local powers may be held to be the administration of local government acts. In this view, then, to do anything upon a local council is to endeavour to administer—either in the interest of the workers or of the masters—laws passed by the central power. But the Socialist Party, being a political party, is (as evidenced by its participation in municipal elections) prepared to use the local powers as a weapon in the great class struggle.

According to Mr. Wright to do thus is to give a new meaning to the word hostility. To use legality in so far as it serves our aim in hostility to all sections of the capitalist class is to work in harmony with I.L.P., S.D.P., and Radicals. It can surely only be Mr. Wright’s modesty that makes him stop at Radicals; for wherein do they differ from the rest of the master class as regards the workers ?

The Socialist Party, moreover, is not to be turned from its endeavours by fear that the ruling class will use the force of the State against the municipalities in revolt, for the response of the capitalist class to the efforts of the class-conscious toilers cannot fail to fan still higher the flame of rebellion and hasten the day of complete victory.

But what appears to be the alternative to the policy that has been outlined, as adumbrated by Mr. Wright ? It is to repeat empty, would-be-revolutionary phrases. To do nothing.

If one is not prepared to use the municipal powers, why contest local elections at all ? Indeed such a policy leads directly to Anarchism, for does it not follow that if the use of local powers by Socialists is to work in harmony with capitalists, it is equally so to use the capitalist franchise laws to get a man elected ? Such a policy is obviously absurd.

No verbal twisting can make the use of the local powers by a Socialist majority as a weapon of hostility in the class struggle be at the same time a working in harmony with capitalism. Mr. Wright, consequently, is wasting time.

Having set out to show that the policy of endeavouring to use the administrative powers of the municipality by S.P.G.B. candidates is contrary to the hostility clause in the Declaration of Principles, and having signally failed, Mr. Wright further shows his confusion by asking nearly a dozen questions not one of which deals with the supposed contradiction he attempts to prove.

His thesis having fallen to the ground, it is unnecessary to waste space in following Mr. Wright in all his devious wanderings.

He claims to be an admirer, hitherto, of the policy of the S.P.G.B., but his present opposition, and indeed his every communication, has shown that he has never understood that policy. It is, then, not surprising that he should not know the difference between the policy outlined in the January No. and that of the I.L.P. The differences are, indeed, legion, and though it does not properly come within the scope of this reply, yet it may be useful to restate the essentials briefly.

The policy of the I.L.P. is based on Utopian ideas of universal brotherhood fostered by place-hunting politicians. It is opposed to revolution and does not work for the supremacy of the proletariat, while it repudiates the class struggle. it holds that what it calls Socialism is to come by a gradual accumulation of instalments, or “like a thief in the night.” It promises and seeks support for reforms, which, if obtained,, could only be gifts from the capitalist class. It keeps in the background the extremely limited nature of the powers of the municipality, and puts forward big programs, as in the I.L.P. manifesto on “A Commune for London,” that are mostly quite outside the power of the municipality, and therefore fraudulent. It repeatedly bargains with, and seeks support from, sections of the capitalist class. In short, it is in no way a Socialist party, but is a party seeking only to modify capitalism and to harmonise capital and labour. And the I.L.P. is typical of the reform movement generally.

The policy outlined in the January issue is on the other hand the logical policy of the class struggle based on the antagonism of interests between capitalist and proletarian. It is a policy of war, and is inconsistent with any support of, bargaining, or harmonious working with, the capitalist class. It points out that no important amelioration can be obtained under capitalism unless as sops thrown by the master class in fear of extinction by revolution. It insists, consequently, that Socialism cannot come from an accumulation of reforms, but that the essential is the revolutionary step of working-class supremacy to which all else is subordinate. While the futility of the reform method is also proved by the fact that, until the workers are the ruling class, reforms are only the gifts of capitalism and therefore no concern of ours, and when the workers are triumphant, then reforms are stupid and unnecessary. It also shows the necessity of seeking support for nothing else than Socialism in order to secure a solid, class-conscious and revolutionary backing. It insists upon the extremely limited nature of the local powers, and therefore makes no false promises and raises no false hopes. It points out that while in a minority the only effective political weapon of the workers is the relentless opposition and exposure of capitalism ; while when the municipality is captured, then its limited powers will be used in the workers’ interest—and therefore of necessity in hostility to capitalist interests—not to lengthen the life of a rotten system, but as a centre of resistance in the struggle for supremacy and an aid to the militant working class. The Socialists will, in short, take all they can get in the open class struggle, and will use every suitable weapon to their hand in prosecution of the proletarian historic mission.

The policy of the I.L.P. is to divert the worker from the class struggle and from the revolutionary step, keeping him ever at the mercy of the capitalist, and as a wage slave within the capitalist system.

The other policy which has been sketched is that of a keen edged sword cutting through Society to the extinction of capitalism and the emancipation of the worker.


Leave a Reply